Kenny Chesney scores on talent at Soldier Field

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published June 15, 2009


It took about an hour. Then, after about 10 songs, it all became perfectly clear. Kenny Chesney can sing.

His Saturday show at Soldier Field was about as finely tuned and elaborate and slick as they come. But when Chesney walked out to the edge of the stage to sing his 1996 simple love song "Me and You," backed by just his keyboard and sax players, it gave the near-capacity crowd a glimpse into the solid singer behind all the craziness: the massive band, the bras on the microphone, the drunks in the audience, the dancing in the aisles, the tailgating, the local athletes onstage (Jay Cutler and Greg Olsen of the Bears, the Cubs' Ryan Dempster).

That was all there, but more important, so was Chesney's talent for singing stories about good times and bad. He did it with his own brand of country baritone. One with less twang and more heart. But it was that one old song that made it easy to see past the frat party that Kenny Chesney concerts have become, and see how deep this country megastar's talent really runs.

For close to two hours, it was a non-stop Chesney hit-fest. Whether he was doing his own new stuff, such as "Out Last Night," old stuff such as "Big Star," or cover tunes such as George Strait's "The Fireman," he gave every song the same tireless treatment while making it all seem practically effortless.

But if there was a winner in the dramatic entrance/exit contest, it was Sugarland. Before Chesney started his set by taking a zip line ride over the arena in a mechanical chair, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush ended their flawless hourlong set by crawling across the raised hands of the fans from inside transparent 12-foot plastic balls, not unlike the rock band Flaming Lips.

Before that unforgettable exit, the country duo roared through a dozen of their own hits and even a Madonna song ("Holiday"), proving that since they debuted in 2004 with the infectious "Baby Girl," they have grown to be the kind of band that can do no wrong. They seamlessly moved from sparse ballads such as "Stay" to the uber-twangy roadhouse romper "Down In Mississippi (Up To No Good)" as the fans moved right along with them.

Shorter sets from Montgomery Gentry, Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum made an entire day of the seven-hour country music immersion.

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